Researchers from the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine recently found via neuroimaging studies that brains of individuals with a history of anorexia or bulimia behave differently than those in the general population.
Specifically, among those with an eating disorder, brains respond differently to food as a reward, according to a university release. Dr. Walter Kaye, who directs UC San Diego’s eating disorder center, and Christina Wierenga, a psychiatry professor and the center’s co-director, explained their findings.
The researchers noted that among anorexia and bulimia patients, there is a distinct difference in the brain’s response to food and how it processes sensations of hunger or satiety depending on which disorder the patient has. For example, a woman who has recovered from anorexia is not motivated to eat because her brain’s “reward response” remains low, whereas a woman who has recovered from bulimia exhibits the tendency to binge because the reward response is increased, according to the release.
“We really know very little about the causes and factors that maintain eating disorders,” Kaye and Wierenga said in the release. “Not only do results from these imaging studies provide support for a brain basis of eating disorders [but] they are beginning to help us identify treatment targets to guide development of medication or behavioral therapies specific to eating disorders.”
Eating disorders claim more lives than other mental illnesses. Approximately 10 percent of patients with eating disorders die, according to the university. The researchers said in the release they are committed to expanding their evidence-based work in treating the disorders, closing the gap between research and practice and involving patients and their families in recovery efforts.